- The “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” director Stefano Sollima said the difference between this movie and the original is that the sequel has no “moral guidance” for the audience.
- The stakes are also higher, leading to some unforgiving scenes, including one of a graphic suicide bombing.
- Sollima said the scene was vital to show that, in this movie, its stars Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are not playing by any rules.
- The director hopes the movie sparks a discussion, especially as it comes out amid the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for people caught crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.
The Italian director Stefano Sollima’s fascination with the underworld has fuelled his career.
From a look at how organised crime influenced politics in Rome for 2015’s “Suburra” to the TV-series version of “Gomorrah” (based on Roberto Saviano’s book and Matteo Garrone’s feature film), which gave a glimpse inside one of the Italian Mafia’s most powerful regimes, his projects are gritty portrayals of the clash between law enforcement and criminals.
Now Sollima brings his style to Hollywood with “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (in theatres Friday), the sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 critically acclaimed “Sicario.”
In the first movie, we follow Kate Macer, an idealist FBI agent played by Emily Blunt who is enlisted by a government task force, led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and flanked by the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), to assist in the escalating drug war on the US-Mexico border.
With the movie’s breathtaking cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins and powerful script from Taylor Sheridan (“Hell or High Water”), Villeneuve created an instant classic.
So Sollima admits he was confused when he was approached to make a sequel to a movie that felt like such a standalone. However, he became a little more interested when it was explained to him that the plan was to make a movie simply “in the spirit” of the first.
He was completely sold when he read Sheridan’s script. By the time he finished reading it, the “different kind of sequel” pitch was certainly accurate, as Blunt’s character was nowhere to be found.
“Emily Blunt is an amazing actress, but her role was sort of a moral guidance for the audience,” Sollima told Business Insider over the phone. “In ‘Soldado,’ we don’t have that. This is closer to my vision of storytelling. I prefer not to have a moral guidance for the audience.”
That is evident in the first 10 minutes of “Soldado.”
In the movie, we are taken deeper into the Mexican drug cartels and the shady politics played by the US government. But Sollima believed that to have the audience fully buy into the plot, he first had to show them that this one had even higher stakes than “Sicario.”
To open the movie, several terrorists walk into a big-box store on US soil and detonate bombs attached to themselves. The way Sollima shot the scene, the audience is pulled into the chaos rather than watching it play out from a safe distance.
The camera follows the men to the entrance of the store. As they continue to walk in, moments later, you see them explode in different areas of the store. The camera stays on one girl crying by the registers. Her mother comes into the frame to grab her, and as they turn to leave, they freeze in shock, looking at something off camera. The shot pulls back to reveal another suicide bomber in front of them. As the mother pleads with the man to let them go, the bomber, whispering a prayer, triggers the bomb, and the explosion kills them all as the screen goes to black.
It’s revealed that the terrorists were trafficked across the border by a Mexican cartel, leading to Graver and Alejandro getting the call to devise a plan for some payback.
Sollima said Sheridan wrote the terrorist-bombing scene differently. In the script, the camera is pulled far back to show the attack. But the director said the intimacy of that moment was needed.
“I think it was the best way to get inside the story,” he said. “You want the audience to be fully into the plan: ‘Let’s have revenge.'”
And the shot of the mother and daughter being killed was to show that no one is safe in this movie.
“When you see the kid, you are thinking, ‘It’s impossible, this is not going to happen,’ and when it does happen, you realise anything can happen in this movie,” Sollima said. “That was really important.”
Things only get more intense; the movie features a child kidnapping, drone strikes, and a whole lot of shootouts.
However, what Sollima – or anyone involved with the movie – could never have predicted was that it would be released at a moment when the topic of borders and immigration are dominating the news cycle and social media.
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial “zero tolerance” immigration policy, coverage has turned to the thousands of children who were separated from their families at the US-Mexico border due to the policy. (Trump last week signed an executive order designed to end the family separations.) Now, “Soldado” is suddenly thrust into the narrative.
As ads for the movie show violent acts on the border, it’s safe to say that Sollima’s “no morals” storytelling could turn off some people going to the theatres looking for some escapism.
There’s another possibility: “Soldado” could be used as a tool for those who agree with the zero-tolerance policy.
Is Sollima concerned?
Sollima said he wasn’t, but he believes it’s healthy for a movie to launch a conversation.
“It’s what you expect – people are going to discuss it,” he said. “You provoke a discussion.”
He said that was what’s great about making gangster movies: Topics can be explored, and discussions can be launched.
“You have some code of the genre that you’re playing with, and this means you are going to tell the dark side of something with a lot of action,” Sollima said. “But if you’re smart enough, through the lens of the genre, you can reflect on the reality of the world around you.”
Regardless of how “Soldado” performs in its opening weekend in theatres – it has a 73% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 97% “want to see” rating – don’t expect Sollima to make a Part Three in the “Sicario” franchise. When asked whether he was interested, he made it pretty clear that this was a one-and-done for him.
“It’s more interesting to have a saga where you have completely different directors doing each movie,” he said. “They will hire another director with their own vision and style.”
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